You People Movie Review
You People Movie Review Metadata
When Kenya Barris’ Black-ish premiered on ABC in 2014, it changed the TV landscape. A comedy series featuring a Black family, the TV show did something that no other Black show did in quite some time – it leaned into discussing race and social issues, and both Whites and Blacks tuned in. It was the first Black series in nearly 20 years to earn an Emmy nomination and it opened the door for Hollywood to create other critic favorites that focused on African-American culture like Atlanta and Insecure. Barris turned that success into a large number of TV series and movies including his newest film You People (2023), a film he co-writes with Jonah Hill who also leads an all-star cast.
Like Black-ish, You People tackles race and sociopolitical issues, but this time through the lens of an interracial couple. Billed as a romantic comedy, the film follows the love story of Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill), a miserable stockbroker who wants nothing more in life than to focus solely on his podcast about “the culture” (translation: Black culture) and find love, and Amira (Lauren London), a costume designer looking for her break. Through a case of mistaken identity, their chance encounter turns into lunch, a relationship, and eventually an engagement. But, like any good rom-com, the lovebirds meet conflict that puts their happily ever after at risk. In this case, that conflict comes in the shape of Ezra’s and Amira’s parents.
You see, Ezra is White, Jewish, born on the right side of town, and the son of a doctor (well, podiatrist). While not overly religious (they attend Yom Kippur services but seemingly nothing much more like many reform Jews), Ezra’s parents would love for him to marry a good Jewish girl. Amira, on the other hand, is African-American, born in a town where gentrification hasn’t taken over, and to a man who later in life became Muslim, taking both his new name and his religion very seriously.
When Ezra takes Amira home to meet his parents, Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny), hilarity ensues in one of the most awkward first meetings in movie history. In an attempt to relate to Amira, Shelley says things that are probably much better heard only in one’s head – and even then it’s not okay. While what she says probably shouldn’t be as funny as it is, it highlights the uncomfortableness that many Whites still have towards discussing the racism that African-Americans face on a daily basis. Just as Ezra begs for the insane things coming out of his mom’s mouth to stop, so too do viewers as the cringe factor continues to get dialed up.
That awkwardness continues when Ezra asks Amira’s parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long) to lunch. Clearly uncomfortable in asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage, these agonizing scenes and others throughout the film make for some of the best and worst moments as it shows that America really hasn’t progressed much since the 1950s and 1960s.
But is You People really a rom-com? Supposedly. But with so much attention paid to Shelley’s inability to get out of her own way when trying to show how accepting she is of having an African-American daughter-in-law and Akbar doing all he can to show his disdain for Amira’s white Jewish fiancé, it feels more of a movie about these two characters than Ezra and Amira’s love story. If only that was the sole misstep.
When looking at the resume of recent Cecil B. DeMille Award winner, Eddie Murphy, his role in You People could have gone like that of career lows Norbit or The Adventures of Pluto Nash or leaned closer to his starring roles in Coming to America or Beverly Hills Cop. If we take Netflix’s word that You People truly is a comedy, then his performance is nothing less than disappointing. But don’t blame Murphy this time around. Nope, the fault lies at the feet of Barris for sorely miscasting Murphy in a straight-man role. It’s like having Michael Jordan on your team and using him as your water boy. When you have the talent, use it.
Promoted as a comedy in both trailers, You People has a number of laughs yet those laughs are in a script that feels like individual scenes were stitched together to make a movie. Perhaps what a movie on race relations might look like if Frankenstein edited it. The overuse of transitions between scenes often make the film feel like a 90’s episode of Beverly Hills 90210 than a well-funded feature-length film. And, at times, You People feels eerily similar to Barris’ Black-ish in its use of humor to discuss a topic as delicate as race but then as fast as you can say ‘race relations’ it takes a farcical turn derailing all attempts at building a sensible story.
While Barris deserves credit for directing his first feature-length project and for bringing attention to race to the forefront once again, his attempt at making a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) or Meet the Parents (2000) for a new generation comes up short, never finding its rhythm.
You People (2023) begins streaming exclusively on Netflix on January 27, 2023.